Chicago Sun-Times
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Rahm Emanuel: Experts say not a legal resident of Chicago, cannot run for mayor

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BY ABDON M. PALLASCH

Chicago Sun-Times Political Reporter

CHICAGO--The first question isn't: Can Rahm win? It's: Can Rahm run?

Sunday, Rahm Emanuel announced in a video posted on a website that he is preparing to run for mayor of Chicago. But two of Chicago's top election lawyers say the state's municipal code is crystal clear that a candidate for mayor must reside in the town for a year before the election.

That doesn't mean they must simply own a home in the city that they rent out to someone else. They must have a place they can walk into, keep a toothbrush, hang up their jacket and occasionally sleep, the lawyers say.

Another three election lawyers say Emanuel could be thrown off the ballot on a residency challenge. None says Emanuel will have it easy.

Today, Emanuel launches his "listening tour" of Chicago neighborhoods -- taking his message and open ears, he says, to Chicago's "grocery stores, L stops, bowling alleys and hot dog stands."

Though he was widely expected to run, Sunday's video was his first statement of his intentions since Mayor Daley announced he would not seek another term. Friday, Emanuel left Washington and his job as White House chief of staff.

Ironically, President Obama would have no problem coming back to Chicago to run for mayor because he never rented out his home and has come back to stay there on rare occasions.

"He has a physical location that he owns and has exclusive right to live in," said attorney Jim Nally.

But Emanuel's problem as he prepares to run for mayor is that he rented out his house, and the tenant refuses to back out of the lease.

"The guy does not meet the statutory requirements to run for mayor," said attorney Burt Odelson. "He hasn't been back there in 18 months. Residency cases are usually very hard to prove because the candidate gets an apartment or says he's living in his mother's basement. Here the facts are easy to prove. He doesn't dispute he's been in Washington for the past 18 months. This is not a hard case."

Emanuel could argue that he has maintained ownership of the home, voted absentee earlier this year, pays property taxes on his house, lists the address on his driver's license, registers his car there, and always intended to return. Cook County judges give great deference to a candidate's intent.

In 2001, prosecutors charged the Rev. Donald Luster falsely used his grandfather's address in Dixmoor to run for mayor when he really lived in Park Forest with his wife and family.

Neighbors of Luster's Park Forest home testified they saw him there all the time -- morning, noon and night -- his Cadillac parked in front, Luster working the barbecue in the backyard, having guests over.

"Rev. Luster wants to barbecue in one backyard and run for mayor from another," Assistant State's Attorney Donna Lach said.

But despite all that testimony, Judge Ray Jagielski ruled that Illinois election law gives great deference to where people say they live, and Luster said he lived with his grandfather in Dixmoor.

The difference between Luster and Emanuel is that Luster could stay at his grandfather's house if he wanted, said attorney Jim Nally. Emanuel's tenant won't let him in.

"I've talked to the guy, and they're pissed," Odelson said of the tenants.

Odelson was one of the lawyers on George W. Bush's team during the Florida recount. Since then, he has represented mostly Democrats, and he worked on signature-gathering for two of Emanuel's likely opponents, Sheriff Tom Dart and the Rev. James Meeks.

Illinois municipal code requires that to run for mayor of a town in Illinois, "You must be a registered voter, and you must have resided there for one year prior to the election," Nally said.

The only exception to that is for "active members of the military" who return to to Illinois "immediately" upon the end of their service.

So while plenty of political people go to work in Washington, D.C., or business people go spend weeks in New York or other places, they have to come home pretty regularly to qualify under that standard, the experts say.

"When he was a congressman, his wife and family lived here, and he would fly home on the weekends," Nally said. "He had a place to sit on the sofa, to keep a toothbrush."

But when Emanuel agreed to become chief of staff, the family moved out to D.C. and the home was rented out to another family that now refuses to break the lease and clear the way for Emanuel to move back in. Emanuel could come back to Chicago to vote, but he could not stop at the house he owns on his way to the polling place, and that does not meet the residency test to run for mayor, Nally said.

On Nov. 29, assuming Emanuel has filed to run for mayor, Nally, Odelson or some other attorney working for one of Emanuel's opponents will likely file the objection, which will be decided by the Chicago Board of Elections and then likely appealed to the Cook County Circuit Court, the Appellate Court and perhaps even the state Supreme Court.

Residency challenges over the years have hinged on whether candidates could show some token form of residence they maintained -- a room in their parents home; an apartment with nothing more than a futon and a refrigerator with pizza and Coke where a state legislator said he went one night a week to maintain residency.

Another of Emanuel's likely rivals for mayor, City Colleges chief Gery Chico, on Sunday called for Emanuel to fully lay out his role in seeking convicted former Gov. Rod Blagojevich's help in trying to get Obama senior adviser Valerie Jarrett appointed to the U.S. Senate.

"Two officials from the Chicago Board of Elections have clearly stated that the overriding legal issue is intent, and the fact that Rahm owns a home and votes in Chicago means he's a Chicagoan -- regardless of his opponent's old-style political efforts to limit the choice for voters," Emanuel spokeswoman Lori Goldberg said.

Actually, Chicago Board of Elections officials have said, with the caveat that they cannot comment on specific cases and they won't know what objections will be raised against mayoral candidates until Nov. 29, that they start with the presumption of intent if a candidate maintains a home in Chicago and votes absentee there.

"It's the sense of the election board that if you keep ownership of the property, keep your registration there, you've voted absentee, as far as we know he hasn't registered anywhere else, it's just like members of the military who serve overseas in Iraq -- we don't deny them the right to vote; people who take corporate assignments overseas, and lease out their home as a fact of life, it doesn't mean they've left permanently," Chicago Board of Elections spokesman Jim Allen said.

"If you are a registered voter and continue to vote from your residence, you establish what we consider the intent to be a resident of the city of Chicago," Chicago Election Board Chairman Langdon Neal told CBS2Chicago.

18 Comments

The headline on this article is really misleading. It should be "Lawyers for Rahm Emanuel's potential opponents say he's not a legal resident of Chicago, cannot run for mayor; Board of Elections say 'meh,' we think he is."

Oh, and if you wanted to say that Rahm's spokeswoman was incorrect in what she said the Board of Elections has said about the issue, then, you should not have put in what the Board of Elections spokesperson actually said, which is exactly what Rahm's spokeswoman said they said.

This was just really an awful, poorly written article. Something I would expect to see on Faux News.

I keep forgetting that Halloween is this month, because the scare tactic of this article proves it is this month, Rahm didn't leave Washington to be told something, he knows isn't true!
He is a resident, his opponents know it, this is Chicago politics at its best!
By the way do you have Rahm's address?

Since when does Rahm care what all these "little people" have to say?

This should be treated the same as if he were in the Military. He went to Washington to serve his country. He is immediately returning to Chicago. Why shouldn't he have rented his house he needed to pay for a place to stay in DC. Why should he and those who wish to vote for him be penalized for that?

Oh well, I guess that's it then. Case closed. Argument over!

Rahm will gain residency and will continue to run for mayor. I mean this is Illinois right? A state full of corruption. It makes sense for Rahm to be mayor in a corrupt state...it fits his own personality. I have no reason to believe he will not be as corrupt as Rod. Why would he leave a high ranking job running the country when a person can make much more as a mayor in the 2nd largest city located in Illinois (legally or illegally). Have fun Chicago and the rest of the State of Illinois if you elect this guy!

Is it possible that Rahm can pay his tenants to break the lease?

- Trevor

It's too bad that Rahm will be able to run, from what I understand in this article.

Chicago may have been cleaned up with the right Mayor. With Rahm it doesn't have a chance, it will be the same corrupt city as it is now.

My heart breaks for Chicago.

Fascinating... but remember, we ARE talking about Chicago here. Ways can be found to bend the laws for certain people.

Speaking of which... I know the difference is between running for federal office and running for a city office governed by state laws... but it has always amused me that Obama's 2004 opponent for the US Senate, Alan Keyes, was a Maryland resident. Apparently the GOP has so few blacks... any one of them will do in a pinch.

Raise your hand if you think the Chicago political machine will pay any heed to the rule of law. What, no hands?

Paul Randall - So you're going to compare Emmanuel to a service member? Unreal - when I was in the military you claimed a home state - in certain cases where the state had income tax, thats where you paid. I was a NYS resident, even though I was stationed in Turkey, and New Jersey. Obviously Emmanuel's intention wasn't to retain a residence, or pay any type of taxes in Illinois - typical Lib, raise other taxes, and find a way not to pay yours, or the lesser.

"...resided there for one year prior to the election..." is not "...the one year prior" or "one year immediately prior". As worded, legally, anyone who has been a resident for one year at any time in one's life prior to the election is eligible.


Rahm Emanuel lives and breathes Chicago. His heart has always been here. Let's hear his ideas and plans to move Chicago forward. The people of Chicago should decide who the next mayor will be, not a bunch of lawyers hired by Rahm's opponents.

This is classic.

His former boss (Obama) has successfully used technical legal arguments to have opponents thrown off ballots.

I really hope that when the renders do decide to leave his house, that they leave Rahm an Upper Decker.

In other words, the law is already so corrupted and afoul of actual residency, and the "deciders" so depraved in the leeway granted as favors for the elite and deep pocketed whose residence is wherever their latest travel has taken them, that we might as well forget the law exists at all.
Forget one solid year at home.
Embrace a thousand dollar round trip overnight stay "at home" as evidence, or better yet, the sole "proof", a mailed ballot to "vote", "absentee" which used to mean "you aren't there", but now means, "it's all good for liars and cons in power to do it from anywhere on the face of the planet".
Congress doesn't have to be in DC at work to get paid, politicians can scuttle about for years trying to get elected while their phantom non existent votes disappear in absence, and who stops the paycheck ? No one.
The best job in the world. Don't show up for work, get paid, don't even live there, get elected, and travel the nation and the world for a couple years, and still do both. It's now a "requirement" isn't it.
Pretty clear why it's all falling apart.

Rahm KNEW what he was doing when he moved to DC to work at the whitehouse. He knew he would be chief of staff for a very popular president for 8 years. When he left Chicago it was pretty obvious that Daley could keep control of Chicago til he was freakin' 80 years old. Rahm put his eggs in Obama's basket. Period.

OOPS. Obama will only last 2 more years in a lame duck presidency and Daley surprised a lot of people with actually going THROUGH with stepping down.

Rahm. You made the wrong choice. Just move back. Give someone else the rebound mayoralcy and then run again next time. No biggie. But use your clout to force this down our throats like y'all did with the health care crap bill and the same will happen to you.

Oops.. right. Its chicago. most Chicagoans wouldnt know a law abiding politician if it was their brother.

Name ONE chicagoan that has outed a crooked politician... Are there any?

I am so glad i don't live in your putrid city limits. Take chicago and shove it.

Actually the law does say one year preceeding and that does mean immediately prior.

There is no realistic way to squidge the residency requirement, the only way to do it is to make him a resident for that year based on his intent and home ownership.

Realistically he does not qualify.

But since when does Chicago Dems care about the rules.

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Lynn Sweet

Lynn Sweet is a columnist and the Washington Bureau Chief for the Chicago Sun-Times.

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This page contains a single entry by Lynn Sweet published on October 4, 2010 9:47 AM.

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